How Will COVID-19 Affect Emerging Technologies?

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided most of us with more disruption and change in a few months than we have experienced in decades. The short-term effects of lockdown, health tragedies, and severe economic downturn are all too apparent. But we all know that there will be a post-COVID world, and it makes sense to try and predict what role technology will play in that recovery.

At the highest levels, COVID-19 has forced an acceleration of many technological and societal trends that were already in progress. For instance, it seems clear that there will be an accelerated migration to cloud services. But, on the other hand, COVID-19 may end up putting the brakes on the long-running globalization trend.

For most businesses, the immediate impact of the pandemic was twofold. First, there was an abrupt need to transition to a work-from-home model. Second, there was a sudden shift in product demand. For the majority of businesses, this change was negative, as economic hardship reduced demand across the board. But for some companies, an abrupt spike in traffic was experienced—think Netflix or Zoom or any other business that improved work or life from home.

Businesses which had the most difficulty adapting to these two factors were those with substantial on-premise computing infrastructure. Some enterprises had limited ability for any employee to work from home, let alone all employees. At best, sudden scaling of VPN access was required and, at worst, rationing of services was needed. For instance, in some banks, employees were required to log in to fetch their emails only at scheduled and limited times during the day.

Enterprises that were utilizing cloud services for internal and customer-facing systems generally suffered from none of these problems. As we move into the recovery phase, we can be confident that all enterprises will accelerate cloud enablement to mitigate the impact of a potential second pandemic wave.

The relatively abrupt transition to home work has opened up significant vulnerabilities for many enterprises, which were previously relying on firewalls and “border security” to protect their mission-critical systems. In some cases, systems that were once protected by very high levels of security are now only as secure as an employee’s home router. This increase in vulnerability comes at a time of amplified economic insecurity, leading to an increased probability of cybercrime. There is also significant reason to believe that state actors are poised to take advantage of the weakened security of government and enterprise systems.

Consequently, it seems extremely likely that there will be an increased focus on cybersecurity over the next 12 to 18 months.

One of the most promising technologies for combating the pandemic is the mobile tracing and tracking applications which utilize Bluetooth to keep track of contacts between individuals who may have become infected. Unfortunately, this also represents yet another diminishment in our privacy and takes us one step closer to ubiquitous surveillance. The IT industry and policy-makers must work hard to ensure that privacy is not abandoned as we work toward a COVID-safe world.

The shared experience of this pandemic should reinforce our belief in our common humanity and in our mutual interests. However, it has also highlighted the fragility of some of our global supply chains and the extent to which individual nations have neglected self-sufficiency. For instance, companies that offshored their support services found those services collapsing abruptly when lockdowns occurred in countries in which call center staff did not have adequate home internet access. Along with the slowdown in international travel, I think we’ll see a renewed emphasis on maintaining national self-sufficiency so that business can continue without being reliant on offshore resources.

It’s a hard time for everybody, and many of us will be forced to change our career plans and aspirations. I think this crisis will accelerate the movement from legacy on-premise deployments to next-generation cloud platforms, and I’d encourage everyone to make sure that they are not relying on yesterday’s technologies for the jobs of tomorrow.